In 100 years Bollywood has given us women whom we loved and adored ,those who ruled the hearts of the people for generations.These women have gone beyond the stereotypical “sati-savitri,Bhartiya nari in chiffon saris,dancing around the tree”image,and inhabited the roles of strong,independent,and wilful women.Out of the numerous sparkling performances that they’ve given,there remains one performance or one character that defines their career.These might not be their best performance,but it will be the one that they’re most identified/associated with.If you close your eyes and try to think of a particular actress,that single career defining performance will come up.These performances gave them recognition as an actress,or are their career peaking performances,remembered due to their strong representation or become iconic later on due to some reason or the other. Below having listed the career-defining roles of some of Bollywood’s most prominent actresses,I remind you that these may/may not be their best performances but these are roles these women were born to play,and you can see no one else but them in these roles.These are roles that they’ll be remembered for decades,come fire,storm or hail. (I’ve listed them in a random order because I’m not ranking the best performances ever.This is a post to discuss the most memorable roles of Bollywood actresses).
Aishwarya Rai’s 15+ years journey in showbiz has been littered with several accomplishments,that can turn any actress blue-green with envy. But there’s not one performance to this date that has been as memorable as “Nandini” in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”. Even after 13 years it remains the definitive Aishwarya Rai performance & for a good reason too. Every single emotion in Ash’s luminous green eyes is so wonderfully played out and emoted with such flawless artistry-ranging from love to desperation is an absolute marvel.As a woman who is forced to marry another man after giving up her true love,continued attempts to find him,& last moments when she realizes her love for her husband is a picture of the perfect woman. It’s a calculated, free-flowing,nuanced performance and Ash makes sure that no one else but her could be so ethereal and magical.And not to mention that legendary love story that started on the sets of the film. Rarely do actresses get such recognition at any early stage in their career. But then Aishwarya Rai is not just any actress,she’s Aishwarya Rai,and she’s totally worth it.
Screeching+shrieking+jumping+overexaggerated emotions every second=the recipe for the most terrible performance ever. How Kareena Kapoor turned it into one of the most memorable ever is a bloody miracle.It’s been 5 years since “Jab We Met” hitchhiked Bebo to become the Queen of Bhatin….oops Bollywood,but her turn as the talkative,vivacious & lively Geet from Bhatinda remains her definitive performance, a champion in the hallow of cinematic chatterboxes & Kareena owns the role like its nobody’s business.It’s rare for an actress to get appreciated for a light-hearted role in a romantic comedy,but by stamping Geet with her own talent Bebo makes sure that we don’t forget the character even hours after watching the film.Talk,talk,talkitty,talk,her constant jabber might be annoying but it slowly grows on you. And in the second half of the film when she’s required to be subdued, she switches on and off curbing the exuberance that was so evident in the first half with charisma & a quite air of dignity. She delivers her dialogues with such spunk & panache that you can’t do anything but be completely charmed by her. Why is it career defining you say?Simply because no other actress could have turned such an OTT & potentially irritating character into an endearing and earnest one. “Main meri favourite hoon”…..Oh yes we do agree Bebo,we do;-)
As a doomed 80s sex symbol in “The Dirty Picture”,Vidya Balan’s “Silk” mouths the most atrocious and shocking dialogues, sleeps around with married men,fakes an orgasm,,erotically dances with a whip- things that an actress of Vidya’s stature would wither away from doing. Throwing her image out of the window,Vidya embraces the role of an 80s sex symbol with relish and aplomb,doing the most outrageous things with ease and conviction,but never looking vulgar or sleazy while at it,a magnificent achievement for somebody playing a woman who earns her bread by selling her body. The turmoil & storm raging inside her,her lovelorn, desolate state is a contrast from her whip-slashing avatar before,& she carries it out with equal grace. In a time when women obsess over size zero it takes a woman with balls of steel to put on kilos till those cleavage bearing dresses cling to your body like glue.And here Balan is,letting the rolls of paunch slide down from her belly,flaunting it as if it was invisible. This kind of commitment could impress anybody-you,me,Tom Hanks? It’s a bravura performance,one in which the actor becomes the character and not the other way around,a rarity in Bollywood. Vidya undoubtedly the hero of the hour carries the film on her two…err shoulders and gives us a remarkable performance to gush over. And it seems that it’ll take some time till any role takes over from “Silk”aka Reshma as the career definitive performance of one of our most talented heroines.
Priyanka Chopra’s crowning achievement in her decade long career remains Fashion,and don’t you make any mistakes about that. Her performances range from drab to dazzling,but boy oh boy,when PC’s in the right hands she puts on quite a show. And what a show that is!Recognition as an actress,a National Award winning one at that,came in the garb of Fashion,directed by Madhur Bhandarkar,at whose hands actresses have delivered their career besties. As a small town girl Meghna Mathur who arrives in Mumbai in order to fulfil her goal of being a model,Priyanka showed us the dark,manipulative,loathsome sight of the fashion industry through the twitching of her eyes alone. When Kittu Gidwani’s character asks her whether she’s come to Mumbai to become a model,she replies with a firm determination-“Ji nahi. Supermodel.”.Now this kind of confidence and attitude becomes Piggy Chops and that’s why she’s remembered for Meghna Mathur more than any other character.You see her career reach it’s peak,and then her world go topsy turvy,showing that behind those designer dresses there’s a world of vicious,power hungry animals.There’s not a single emotion she doesn’t touch,yet she does it so remarkably well with a splendid amount of enery & an interesting mix of edge and control.that we can only be at best stunned by her gravitas.
For an actress of Rani Mukherjee’s calibre it’s exceedingly difficult to single out a performance that defines her whole career. Out of all the sparkling performances however Black is the jewel in the erstwhile Bollywood Queen’s crown,the single performance of such astute detail that it makes you draw in your breath sharply. Playing blind,deaf,and mute Michelle McNelly, Rani filled the silences with her stupendous presence and how. Playing a disabled character,and that too a deaf,blind,mute girl is a difficult task to accomplish,without entering into the unspoken territories of stereotype and OTTness ,and Rani does that impossible. With her unique quality of making each role her own by stamping it with her instinct and force of talent,Rani in Black showed us an actress who at the time of her peak was willing to shed every trace of vanity and get into the skin of the character. Pitted against a thespian like Amitabh Bachchan,Rani held her own in the portrayal of a young woman fighting not just her own private darkness but the one surrounding her world.It’s quite a special performance,one brimming with eloquence and a pathos and Rani lives her character. After watching her portrayal you’ll be convinced that nobody but Rani “Freaking” Mukherjee could’ve carried it with the same guts and earnestness. Rani embraces Michelle and invests it with a rare sensitivity and depth,giving us a once in a lifetime performance.
India’s Meryl Streep,nuff said. That’s how the difficult to please crowd at Toronto described Sridevi in the screening of her comeback film. Sridevi ruled over the audiences as the undisputed No.1 in the country for over a decade,giving performances as different as chalk and cheese,each power packed with legendary histrionics.Her career high point however came in the form of Yash Chopra’s 1989 directed “Chandni”,where Sridevi played the namesake titular character. Sridevi practically IS Chandni, completely intertwined with her character that it becomes all but impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. Childlike but wise, suffering but sexual, this was a major multi-dimensional screen creation, and Sridevi infused it with her own brand of quiet dignity, raucous silliness and pert sexuality inhabiting the 'normal' woman in such an abnormal way that at once we knew that though she was real, she would remain untouchable.Because of this Chandni has become a romantic archetype, one that would inspire the generation of romantic heroines who were to follow. It’s quite strange how a woman who has always played larger-than-life characters gets her biggest recognition playing an average, middle-class Punjabi girl. No wonder then that those famous white salwars became a rage in North India as the “Chandni look”. That’s what you call the appeal of an iconic actress,new girls can watch & learn.
This positively,horrendously,insufferably won’t do. Why I ask myself must Tabu remain an underrated actress for almost two decades?Why must an actor nay artist of her magnificence be so ignored to this date?Every time she appears on screen it seems as if Tabu’s mere presence has lit it up. Subtle & nuanced performances that are brimming with finesse and as close to “real as life”can get,her most memorable performance as Mumtaz in Chandni Bar is yet another indication of this lady’s brilliance and her unique talent of bringing genuine excellence and sensitivity in each of her roles. As a displaced woman who’s forced to become a bar dancer Tabu is shockingly hard hitting and sublime. Details, such as, her twirling the cord of the phone when she is in a state of hopelessness shows she has really immersed herself into the character. Creating a slowly-intensifying graph of emotion, peaking at her gut-wrenching howls in the final scene you never feel that she is putting on a show.Rarely can Bollywood actresses convey such wealth of information without overacting,& this makes Tabu’s subtle & sensitive nuances even better.Truly a genuine gift to Indian Cinema.
It’s truly annoying and insufferable to see the way in which Juhi Chawla is sidelined by the glamour ridden Indian audiences and award juries. Everybody loves Juhi but nobody ever takes her seriously as an actress. Undeniably among the cream of India’s best actresses ever,Juhi is not just outstanding in comedy but in serious roles too. Overloaded with histrionics that she lets flow, the audience never gave her a chance to prove her immense talent bottled up under that cheery face and sunshine smile. Thus her performance as Vaiyjanti in Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke might not be the best performance of her career,but it’s the one she’s the most identified with. As the bubbly daughter of a South-Indian businessman her effortless dialogue delivery in Tamil especially for someone who doesn't speak the language only further prove what a gifted actress she is.Juhi’s comic timing in this film is truly effortless,she can just make you crack up and ROTFLLMFAO without making contrived faces at the camera or becoming OTT,a rare feat to achieve while doing comedy. Vivacious and endearingly chirpy,Juhi is the scene stealer in the film even overshadowing Ace Khan. That sums up Juhi Chawla in 2 words-brilliant but underrated.
For a woman who wanted to become a microbiologist and ended up being one of India’s biggest film icons ever Madhuri Dixit lived life Queen size. A versatile actress who delivered excellent performances in every genre from drama to comedy,a MIND BOGGLING out of the world dancer, unforgivably beautiful and charming with incredible box office records,Madhuri is the definition of a ‘complete actress’. Her career peaking role as Nisha in 1994’s legendary blockbuster “Hum Aapke Hain Koun!” also starring Salman Khan is called Madhuri Dixit’s landmark film and the one she’s most identified with. Effortless,spunky and vivacious Madhuri is sublime as Nisha. It’s a character that’ll charm you,drug you,intoxicate you and send you into La-La-Land,and Madhuri lends her larger than life persona to a fairly ordinary character and makes it her own.Many people still credit HAHK’s historic success to La Dixit,and why not? Her names appeared in the opening sequence of the film even before Salman’s name,her dance numbers in the film are still the most popular in wedding circles and not to mention that gorgeous embroidered purple sari that become the stuff legends are made of. All Madhuri has to do is flash those pearlies and the world is her oyster.
Look at that image above carefully. How many times have you actually seen that iconic image of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol from the historic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge embracing fondly in the yellow’ Ghane ke khet’ of Punjab,and how many of you’ll wish that instead of Kajol it was you languishing in the arms of King Khan? I don’t know about you but you can add me to that list. But the truth is that without Kajol DDLJ wouldn’t even be half as legendary as it was.Not even close. As Simran Singh, a young NRI from London who falls for Shahrukh Khan's Raj the real-as-life actress bringing warmth and credulity to the initially prudish and reluctant Simran. For half the girls of the 90s generation Simran was the perfectly relatable character,sweet,naïve and innocent but strong at the same time,and Kajol infused her with such delectable charm and energy that is her hallmark.And that legendary chemistry with SRK is the stuff Shakespeare and Tennyson wrote of. But man I must give it to Simran. How could she spend the night together with Raj withot having sex with him? Unfathomable Senorita,even for the 90s. But I guess “Badi badi shehro mein aisi chotein chotein baate hoti hi rahti hain”.
There’s something unique about Preity Zinta. The breath of bubbliness,cool,freshness and zaniness that she effortlessly radiates out from every pore of her skin has left a difficult to fill gap in Bollywood. As Simran Singh in Kal Ho Na Ho she’s “preity”perfect as a no-nonsense, modern, bespectacled NRI who falls in love with Aman a man dying of cancer while her childhood buddy Rohit is in love with her.Here PZ slips into the character of Naina beautifully. Right from the peppy spectacles to her no-nonsense demeanor, Preity captures the spirit of Naina Kapur. It’s a performance that requires a huge amount of energy and Preity infects Naina with that charm.And how cool is she for making square shaped spectacles a trend of sorts for actresses ?
Karisma Kapoor ruling Bollywood as the No.1 actress in the late 90s still didn’t reach up to her true potential when it came to onscreen histrionics.Cut 2001’s Shyam Benegal directed women-centric film Zubeidaa and you’ve all the critics lapping her performance up. Surpassing herself as the passionate, defiant, wilful and troubled Zubeidaa,Karisma lends rare charm,dignity,sensitivity and true depth to the character making it the ubiquitous modern woman-strong,independent and resolute.You love the vivacious girl in her. You struggle along with her as she tries to adjust to being a queen - failing miserably. You want to dance with her - when she commits the crime of dancing along with the visiting commoners. And you simply marvel at how the glamorous girl of so many commercial potboilers could be the same woman portraying such a complex character. Career definining to say the least.
And now ladies and gents we come to the ever-youthful,evergreen diva of Hindi Cinema .There are few actresses who enjoy the iconic position of Rekha,and very few women who’ve been blessed with her longevity. But she wasn’t just another glamour doll. A genuinely remarkable National Award winning actress,who tried out performances as different as chalk and cheese,an actress who held her own against stalwarts like Amitabh Bachchan. The crown in her jewel and most memorable performance to this date remains Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan. It’s a role that Aishwarya Rai has tried and failed quite simply because no other actress could live the role of the quintessential courtesan with a heart of gold better than Rekha. Without ever really letting go of the reserve, mystery and ‘stature’ of the character, she lets you see that at heart of Umrao .She is vulnerable, in need of affirmation and support, torn between loyalty to the people & her desire to be someone else. Rekha makes her elusive and mysterious, but also very tragically real. Must say Ash is a brave woman for accepting a role that was so hauntingly inhabited by the irreplaceable original.
Hema Malini has been blessed with some of the most iconic female characters on screen. From Dream Girl to Basanti,the lady simply conjures vivid images at the mere mention of her name. Her career best performance and the textbook for actresses playing double roles till today remains Ramesh Sippy’s Seeta Aur Geeta. Twin girls separated at birth-Geeta, a feisty girl is raised in a poor neighborhood and is a street performer, while Seeta is raised by her cruel aunt Chachi & uncle. Hema Malini quite effortlessly slips into the double role playing both the feisty Geeta and docile Seeta with equal effervescence and charm. Although she had two major male stars-Dharmendra and Sanjeev Kumar supporting her,Seeta Aur Geeta is remembered as a Hema Malini film and for good reason too. The film simply belongs to Hema.As street smart and flamboyant Geeta,whether it is tightrope walking,Mumbaiyaa style gaalis and being the ‘man’ among women,Geeta is a literal firebrand . As the typical poor little rich sati savitri,Bhartiya nari in white chiffon saris tortured by her Hitler aunt and meek uncle,Seeta is the polar opposite of Geeta. And Hema Malini plays both with effortless charm and comic timing,owning the character like a boss.
Jaya Bachchan,the champion of middle of the road cinema in the 70s,is undeniably one of the greatest actresses ever.With a white cotton sari draped around her most of the times,Jayaji is quite the antithesis of a glamorous Hindi film heroine. This combination of effortlessness and nuances comes across with full force in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic “Abhimaan”,where ably supported by her real life hubby Big B,Jaya effortlessly streals the show as Uma,a singer whose popularity eclipses that of her husband’s and the seed of jealousy grows in between them. Jaya is appropriately expressive in the first half and appears effectively numbed in the climax.It’s a finely textured,multi-layered complex character and Jaya brings warmth and reliability to it.As Uma Jaya Bachchan is strikingingly wonderful,giving a simple but honest performance,rich in emotions and nuances. At the time of its release, audiences found similarities between real-life couple Amitabh and Jaya and the couple they portrayed on-screen as Jaya's career was stronger than Amitabh's at the time.Damn.Legends both Ma and Paa Bachchan,competing each others socks off in reel as well!
There are actresses,there are actresses,and then there is a Nargis.What do I say about Bollywood’s greatest actress ever and what do I say about her spellbinding versitality?Nothing I say can sum up the legend that was Nargis. With her career defining role in Mehboob Khan’s Oscar nominated epic Mother India,Nargis showed why when we take the name of Indian actresses,the others should be placed on one pedestal,and Nargis given a separate platform. And Nargis is simply magnificent in her role. Masked in poverty and poor harvest, abandoned by her invalid husband, victim of attempted molestation, Radha rises above every adversity without compromising on her virtue or honor. Choosing integrity over blood, she fires a bullet into her misguided son to become a shining but tragic example that earns her title of Mother India in Mehboob Khan's unforgettable epic. No actress,Bollywood,Hollywood or anywhere else in the world could have portrayed Radha as powerfully as her.It’s a gut wrenching,soul ripping performance,one that makes you want to rip apart your heart and wolf whistle on the edge of your seat. I actually pooped in my pants after watching the disgust and vehemence across her face in the last scene!
The girls today know not the meaning of acting without shrieking their voices off while wearing teensy weensy bikinis. Cut 1962 in Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam Meena Kumari acts with her feet while being clothed from head to toe!And the impact is ten times more alluring,lovable,and mysterious. Damn that’s what you call talent.In her career defining role as Chhoti Bahu the Tragedy Queen is sublime and ethereal her portrayal of the tormented and deeply frustrated Chhoti Bahu is both heartfelt and artistic. Simply put her screen presence is so mesmerizing,her grace so unmatched and the way she wins over you in the first scene of the film when we see her from the feet upwards and hear her beautiful voice that could have anything from any man in the world. Kumari plays the role of the estranged wife vying for her husband’s affection with great mastery,her big, expressive and often tearful eyes, her brilliant dialogue delivery, her emotional outbursts, her breaks into anguished and sarcasm laden laughs, and ultimately her nostalgic monologue towards the end, are unforgettableIt stirs you like few will, courageous and uninhibited, honest and intense. Sometimes as indeed in every scene, she goes beyond acting into a realm that exists only in the gut. . Its a performance in which she so beautifully combines reel with real,that it becomes impossible to separate the actress from the character.
At a time when her contemporaries from the black n white era are all but forgotten,you still see posters of Madhubala hanging near those of Katrina Kaif or Aishwarya Rai. I doubt any actress can be elevated to such iconic cult status. Death may have snatched her away from us,but Madhubala’s name is forever engraved in the audience’s heart as Anarkali,the ill fated courtesan in K.Asif’s epic romance Mughal-E-Azam. The director unaware of the extent of Madhubala's illness, required long and grueling shooting schedules that made heavy physical demands on her, whether it was posing as a veiled statue in suffocating make-up for hours or being shackled with heavy chains.Yet Madhubala steals the show,delivering a multi-layered and intelligent performance. Anarkali starts by being the besotted firebrand and goes on to become the defiant loyalist, bound by her unconditional love. Dilip Kumar tenderly touching her face with a feather is the most erotic moment in film history. And what do I say about that legendary and unmatched beauty of hers?Just observe Madhubala in her heavily embroidered anarkali swirling around The Hall Of Mirrors to the evergreen-“Jab Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya”and you feel yourself lucky to be born to see the magnificence and splendour of this heartstopping beauty.
If Filmfare Awards are the measure of an actress’s capabilities,then Nutan is the foresmost of actresses in the hallow of Bollywood actresses with 5 in her kitty. A queen among women,Nutan was quite unlike actresses of her time-unconventional,edgy & path breaking. Her marvellous performance in 1962’s Bandini is yet another indication of a natural actress beyond compare. Sans screaming hysteria-nics, Nutan puts across one of the finest performances seen on Hindi screen. She recognised and was perfectly in tandem with Kalyani's innate strength of character. Splendidly expressive, her understated role is something that cannot be easily matched. Fear and anger show up so lividly in Nutan's eyes that they haunt you long after you have walked away after watching the film. It’s the definitive Nutan performance simply because she’s the antithesis of the Hindi film heroine as Kalyani,and portrays the character with stoic dignity and irresistible independence. Low key and mellow as she was peppery and sarcastic,yet making a stronger impact than the others. It’s a shame to think that the same Filmfare that was given to Nutan for Bandini was given to far lesser performances in years to come.
Waheeda Rehman should be sued for being so elegant and graceful,even at 70+. I wish she would share the secret of her regal and elegant nature with me. And this magnificence and splendour is brilliantly visible in Dev Anand’s 1965 classic Guide,a benchmark in Indian filmmaking. As the conflicted Rosie Waheeda underplays and underemotes in her part to pure perfection,her expressive without saying that her dance numbers are simply superb - they are some of the best portions of the film and they contribute significantly to the building of her character.Her face conveying billions of expressions through the flicker of her eyes alone. Her transformation is very convincing, as later in the film we see an altogether different woman, who is indifferent to her surroundings and to Raju as well. It never looks peculiar, where it could have because we saw a much more warm side of her character early in the movie. Each one of them constitutes an expression of her state of mind, whether happy or tormented, and there is a certain fervour in her expressions and moves that explosively brings out her otherwise repressed energy and emotion.Goes to show why she’s called the epitome of elegance to this day.
Recently Vidya Balan stated her influence to become an actress was Shabana Aazmi’s scene in Arth where her character Pooja begs Kavita over a phone call to give her husband back to her as she has nothing without him. Why Vidya this scene would even appeal to a person who has not the slightest knowledge of acting. Shabana Azmi is THE actress,the gold standard for parallel cinema to this date,a woman who lived and breathed complex characters and made them unique and compelling. As a woman who fights for justice when her filmmaker husband cheats on her with an actress,Shabana is astonishingly good.Her pathos and sensitivity compel you to identify with innumerable women who’ve been the victims of infidelity in marriage. With ease and conviction she transforms into a simple woman who deals with problems in her life. Despite her heartbreak, Pooja never loses her sense of optimism and is brave enough to summon up the courage and fight for her dignity and right to find new happiness in life. Pooja's pain, suffering, honesty, growth and ultimately her coming of age, are very real and involving, and that's simply because they are portrayed with rare subtlety, depth and sincerity by Azmi.This is the kind of performance that requires emotional depths an actress would shiver away from plunging into,but Shabana Aazmi simply wears it around her like a shawl and shows us what actual brilliant acting means.
Smita Patil like Shabana Aazmi was the torchbearer of parallel cinema in the 70s and 80s,some of the finest and most nuanced performances of Hindi Cinema coming from her. What a shame that such an actress died prematurely,before getting a chance to prove half the talent that lay under that brilliant face.How many times have you seen actresses play reel life “heroines”on screen(over to you Bebo)?Well this remains the best and most authentic one yet. Exceptional as Usha. She gets a role which is both demanding and difficult and plays it with complete conviction, ease and intensity. Her character has many shades and that's where the film probably takes its title from. Every new phase in her personal life is similar to the previous - she virtually gets the same script, the same role. She played many roles but never could play her own self. We really feel for Usha as we witness her experiences, confusion and dissatisfaction from life, and that's thanks to Patil, who displays something very disturbing within her. She naturally shows the growth of her character and the power of her emotions through her expressive eyes and stark silence. This really is an unforgettable portrait of a celebrated yet unhappy woman from one of the most talented actresses ever.